I told Gordon that I’ve been doing some writing about the relationship between Provo and BYU, and if you don’t mind I’d like to enlist the assistance of T&S in helping me solve a few riddles. For those who have never lived in Provo, please pardon the indulgence.
In the “town and gown” literature, the usual way of relating a town and its college is through an economic relationship. The university gives the town new residents, art and science, acclaim, and all of this creates a financial windfall for the town, putting it on the map if it is not otherwise there, making it a place where businesses want to invest. The town, in turn, gives land, utilities, parking (a perpetual conflict everywhere), and housing. Town and college work together to make each other rich. Universities often release dollar figures showing how much the town nets from their presence; towns use the same figures to show why citizens should support the university.
I do not deny the economic relationship in assessing Provo and BYU; indeed the history Provo could never be entirely understood without reference to BYU’s housing policy. Still, I feel BYU’s religious orientation requires me to strike out in another direction. BYU, as a religious institution, has a different relationship with its host town than would a non-religious institution. For one thing, BYU students and Provo residents overwhelmingly share the same religion. The belief systems do not match in all particulars, of course, but many of the basic assumptions about the world are the same, quite unlike colleges located in religiously pluralistic communities. In this way, the symbolic boundaries between Provo and BYU could be said to be more fluid or porous than in many other college towns. That makes a difference in how student and citizen approach each other. Like it or not, Mormonism profoundly mediates the relationship between BYU and Provo.
How does Mormonism make a difference in the BYU-Provo relationship? Think beyond the housing wars (although that, too, is mediated by Mormonism) to classic Mormon values like thrift, self-reliance, family, eternal marriage, etc. I think there is more to this question than we might realize at first glance.